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Representative Gowdy Defends FBI Conduct; Russia's Foreign Minister Meets Kim Jong-un in North Korea; Russian Journalist Turns Up Alive After Claims of Assassination. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A secret memo now in the hands of the special counsel. Andrew McCabe says the president wanted to fire James Comey over the Russia investigation. So why did Rod Rosenstein say otherwise?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president refusing to condemn Roseanne's racist tweet, but he does want his own apology for perceived slights from the media.

BRIGGS: And a truly remarkable story out of Ukraine. A Russian reporter thought to be assassinated, well, shows up at a press conference, revealing a plot to kill him was foiled.


BRIGGS: And one part of this you won't believe about. There's a lot of people who were in on the plan. The one person that was not, we will tell you in a bit.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, May 31st. 4:00 a.m. in the East.

A crucial new question this morning in the Russia investigation -- did the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provide cover for President Trump over the decision to fire FBI director James Comey? The "New York Times" reports Comey's former deputy Andrew McCabe thought that might be the case after talking to Rosenstein,

CNN has confirmed a memo McCabe wrote about that discussion is now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

BRIGGS: That memo says Rosenstein told McCabe the president wanted Russia mentioned in his recommendation to fire Comey. Doing so could have been problematic for the president. Rosenstein ended up citing Comey's handing of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. The president and his allies have used Rosenstein's role in the Comey firing to suggest he should have recused himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. The Justice Department declined comment.

ROMANS: President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani out front on the Mueller probe Wednesday, reinforcing the White House timeline for getting the investigation wrapped up. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: If he doesn't file his report by September 1st, mid-September, he's clearly doing a Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So will he fire him if he doesn't file the report by September 1st?

GIULIANI: I don't think he's going to fire Mueller. Mueller is creating his own problems.


ROMANS: Giuliani also echoing the president's the line of attack with a veiled threat to Mueller's team.


GIULIANI: We'll challenge Mueller to write whatever you got. Take your best punch with all your 13 Democrats there. You couldn't find a Republican? So you've got a group there that's a lynching mob. So let them do their job, and boy, we're ready to knock the heck out of you with our report.


ROMANS: Giuliani also defending the president following reports he tried to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself on Russia. Giuliani says even if true that would still not be obstruction.

BRIGGS: President Trump launched a new barely veiled attack on Sessions yesterday with the volley of tweets saying he wishes he had picked a different attorney general. But Giuliani says he does not think the president will fire Sessions before the Mueller investigation ends.


GIULIANI: I don't think the president is going to touch him, Mueller, or Rosenstein, and I think in the long-run, it'll be worked out. I don't think he'll fire him. They're too good friends.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has he ever said to you, man, I'd like to get rid of Jeff Sessions?

GIULIANI: I decline to answer that.



BRIGGS: Former attorney general Michael Mukasey also weighing in on the president's repeated attacks against his successor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's (INAUDIBLE). It serves no purpose whatever. It doesn't help the president. And he's essentially attacking him for something that he was obligated to do. To recuse himself.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So your advice to Jeff Sessions?

MUKASEY: Stay strong, brother.


ROMANS: The White House is pushing back after Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy undercut President Trump's conspiracy theory that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign. This morning the "Washington Post" says Gowdy underscored the cowardice of the many Republicans who haven't spoken up against the president, calling their silence, "bad for Republican leaders themselves whom history will remember as moral weaklings in the face of a president who assaulted democratic institutions."

CNN's reporting is the FBI used a confidential source, but not planted within the Trump campaign.

CNN's Boris Sanchez has more from the White House.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House not letting a lack of evidence take the wind out of their sails, Dave and Christine. They pushed back on comments made by Trey Gowdy, the congressman who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, a Republican who's actually been able to see some of the underlying classified information that the president is using to base these conspiracy claims about a spy being imbedded in his campaign by the deep state, something that the White House has not been able to provide any evidence for.

[04:05:04] Gowdy actually saying that this investigation has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Sarah Sanders from the podium not directly addressing what Gowdy said, but essentially saying that the president does have reason to be concerned. Listen to this.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, there is still cause for concern that needs to be looked into as the president is concerned about the matter and we're going to continue to follow the issue.


SANCHEZ: This should not come as a surprise. A source telling my colleague Jim Acosta here at the White House that the president is the one that's directing this sort of political strategy against the Mueller probe. He is essentially trying to use it as a political weapon to defend himself and further to try to energize his base. That source telling Jim that they believe that it is bad for the country and likely will continue to get worse as the Russia probe moves forward -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: All right, Boris, thank you.

President Trump weighing in on the fallout over Roseanne Barr's racist tweet demanding an apology from ABC instead of condemning Roseanne's remark or simply to tap in par that is condemning racism, Mr. President. This is the easiest thing you'll ever have to do, but instead here is what the president did.

Tweeted, "Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ABC does not tolerate comments like those made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump," referring to himself, "to apologize for the horrible," all caps, "statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call."

Here's the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.


SANDERS: Where was Bob Iger's apology to the White House staff for Jemele Hill calling the president and anyone associated with him a white supremacist? To Christians around the world for Joy Behar calling Christianity a mental illness? Where was the apology for Kathy Griffin going on a profane rant against the president on "The View" after a photo showed her holding President Trump's decapitated head? This is a double standard that the president is speaking about. No one is defending her comments. They're inappropriate. But that's what the point that he was making.


ROMANS: All right. Following the backlash over her claim that she was Ambien tweeting,. Roseanne tried to clarify saying it was an explanation, not an excuse. In a later tweet, she said, "I'm not a racist. I never was and I never will be." Roseanne's ex-husband, Tom Arnold, spoke out last night on CNN.


TOM ARNOLD, ACTOR, ROSEANNE BARR'S EX-HUSBAND: She was so into the conspiracy stuff with Donald Trump and so how far gone she was in the pizzagate and Hillary is a pedophile and Obama wasn't born here, and she was -- you know, birther and how crazy that was. I just knew that this would not end well.


ROMANS: Roseanne's on-screen husband John Goodman with his first reaction to the who's cancellation, he shrugged it off, saying, quote, "I wasn't going to get an Emmy anyway."

BRIGGS: Breaking overnight. Russia's Foreign minister meets with Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Sergey Lavrov on a visit to Pyongyang says sanctions must be lifted if there is to be a solution to the North Korea nuclear problem. That would once against pit Russia's stance against the United States. This morning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to meet again in

New York City with Kim Yong Chol. That's the former North Korean spy chief who met with Pompeo yesterday at dinner trying to iron out details of the potential summit between Kim and President Trump.

For the latest, let's bring in international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson in Seoul.

A lot to cover here, Nic. What's the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Dave, I think what we're hearing from Sergey Lavrov in Pyongyang in meeting with Kim Jong-un today is going to be troubling for the White House. He is sort of indicating that he believes that there should be an internationalizing of the process. What he is saying is there may be certain outcomes of this summit that will need to go to the United Nations. And we all know how strange that sounds that Russia is the one that's saying let's take these issues to the United Nations.

They're normally the one vetoing or avoiding that process completely. So it's very clear that Russia does want a stake and a say in how the talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un go. As we know that President Xi in China has also taken a very similar position. We know that rattled President Trump before. We know that because he said that he thought President Xi was trying to destabilize the process.

So of course right now Secretary Pompeo meeting again with Kim Yong Chol. North Korean leader's top negotiator. The point of that meeting to narrow gaps on what denuclearization could mean on security for Kim's regime going forward. The State Department saying that the North Koreans must make some historic step. Must do something that they haven't done before. That doesn't sound very much like shaping expectations ahead of the summit in June -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. Pompeo again tweeting yesterday about complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

[04:10:05] It does not sound like they're willing to accept half-way deals on this.

Nic Robertson live for us in Seoul, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Big news this morning on trade. The U.S. may make good on a trade threat slapping metal tariffs on key allies, creating another trade battle with three of its biggest trading partners. The Trump administration granted a few temporary exemptions, remember, when it imposed those deal on aluminum tariffs in March giving the EU, Canada and Mexico more time to negotiate with the U.S. However, those exemptions expire in less than 24 hours. "The Washington Post" says the White House did not get what it wants from trade talks. So it plans to hit all three allies with tariffs. If that happens, the EU threatens swift retaliation, targeting $8 billion in U.S. exports including strategic items from the home state of Speaker Paul Ryan, the majority leader Mitch McConnell. Think whiskey and what -- Harley Davidson. Metal tariffs could also affect NAFTA renegotiations with Canada and

Mexico. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says a decision will be announced today. Ross was in Paris yesterday to negotiate with the EU. Now he heads to Beijing for another U.S. trade battle. China, those two countries currently working on a trade deal but another set of tariffs threatened to derail those talks.

The U.S. just announced plans to target $50 billion in Chinese goods. We're going to get a list of those goods by I think June 15th. And then there are also some export controls the United States is going to implement against China for buying strategic U.S. tech. That comes June 30th.

BRIGGS: You say strategic. What's the overall strategy, trade strategy? Is there a consistency to it?


BRIGGS: Because it looks like it's ala carte, day trading sort of.

ROMANS: That's a very good -- that's a very good analogy. Look, there -- we were told there was a framework for dealing with China, at least. And then these new tariffs came out a couple of days ago.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: There is some concern about what is that framework and how does this all fit together. I mean, maybe there's a strategic. Maybe Wilbur Ross has a strategy. We just don't know what it is yet.

BRIGGS: I sure hope so.

All right. Ahead, it's the stuff great movies are made of. This one was real. A reporter faked his own death to avoid assassination. You won't believe the one person he did not tell. That's next.


[04:16:25] BRIGGS: Listen this, folks. Back from the dead. In a cloak and dagger story filled with intrigue, a Russian journalist and Kremlin critic reported to have been shot dead in Ukraine showed up live at a news conference. He declared the Ukrainian security services faked his murder to foil an assassination plot. Ukraine officials say they have two people in custody. One suspected of orchestrating the hit, another the potential assassin.

Senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen putting all of these pieces together for us from Moscow.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dave and Christine, this was an absolutely bizarre story that unfolded. After initially blasting the Russians for allegedly killing Arkady Babchenko including the prime minister of Ukraine coming out and essentially saying on his Facebook page that he holds the Russian government accountable. The Russians of course fired back at that and said it wasn't them. It turned out all of it was staged. At some point during the day

there was a press conference in Kiev for Arkady Babchenko, the man who was allegedly killed, showed up and he was very much alive. He then confirmed that this was all part of an operation by the Ukrainian Intelligence Service. They had apparently gotten wind of what they say was a Russian controlled plot to try and kill Babchenko. And they say that the only way they could have prevented that plot and try to find the people who were behind it was to stage this man's death.


ARKADY BABCHENKO, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST (through translator): Personally I would like to apologize for what you all had to go through because I buried friends and colleagues many times. And I know it's a sickening, vomiting feeling when you have to bury your colleagues. You're sorry that they forced you to experience all of this.


PLEITGEN: Interestingly, apparently even Babchenko's wife did not know about the fact that he was part of this operation. He came forward and apologized to her for what he called the hell that she'd been going through in the time that she thought that he was dead.

The Ukrainians are calling this a brilliant operation. They are obviously very, very happy. The Russians, of course, for their part, absolutely fuming. They ripped into the Ukrainian and called all of this Russophobic attack -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: Wow, Fred, what a story.

BRIGGS: Wow is right. And to reiterate, sorry, honey, I faked my own death and didn't tell you.


BRIGGS: Please let me know if you ever apologized for anything like that @DavebriggsTV on Twitter. How would you take that apology?

ROMANS: Honey, I'm so glad you're alive. Now I'm going to kill you. You know, that's probably how I would do it.


BRIGGS: Sorry, honey, I spent the insurance money.

ROMANS: Yes, all right. 19 minutes past the hour. The Stanley Cup Finals all even and just barely. Wait until you see the save that kept the Capitals on top.


[04:23:27] ROMANS: Welcome back. Kilauea's lava flows are quickening raising fears that the molten rock could cut off escape routes. Observers say lava from fissure eight is fueling the flow going down Highway 132, further isolating Hawaii's lower Puna. The molten rock now traveling a much faster cliff of about 10 yards a minute.

BRIGGS: The National Park Service releasing this video of solidifying lava being removed from a roadway in case it needs to be used as a possible evacuation route. Some 2500 people had been evacuated and 75 homes destroyed. Incredibly the National Weather Service says Kilauea's volcanic haze has drifted 4,000 miles on strong winds, reaching some people as far away as Guam.

ROMANS: A New York City grand jury has indicted disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein on rape and other charges. The charge comes seven months after dozens of women came forward with stories alleging sexual misconduct by him. The once respected Hollywood producer intends to plead not guilty and is currently free on $1 million bail. The 66- year-old's attorney said news of the indictment does not come as a surprise. Weinstein due back in court July 30th.

BRIGGS: In Tennessee, a woman has been charged with murder in the shooting death of a sheriff's deputy. Authorities say Erica Castro Miles gunned down Sergeant Daniel Baker during a traffic stop on Wednesday. She is currently in custody. Officials are still hunting for a second suspect identified as Steve Wiggins. They say he is armed and dangerous and has been added to the state's 10 most wanted list.

[04:25:01] ROMANS: Parents from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, launched a super PAC aimed at defeating politicians who have the backing of the National Rifle Association. The Families Versus Assault Rifles PAC made up of victims and survivors, parents as well as concerned community members. They plan to back congressional candidates who endorse a bill to ban assault weapons. One of the organizers says the GOP is controlled by the NRA.

BRIGGS: The Stanley Cup Finals are tied at a game apiece. Washington Capitals win game two on the road in Vegas. They took a 3-1 lead over the Golden Knights in the second period with goals by Alex Ovechekin and Brooks Orpik. The Golden Knights got within 3-2. But a stunning save by Braden Holtby helped preserve the lead. The Caps win 3-2. Game three Saturday night in Washington. Get a look at it. The paddle save by Holtby. One of the best in the Stanley Cup Finals' history and I'm sure Lindsay Czarniak was exuberant late at night.


ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight, Kim Jong-un face-to-face with the Russian Foreign minister. Is Russia now inserting itself into North Korea talks?